‘Hobo sci­en­tist’ presses for truth in jour­nals

Ottawa Citizen - - CONTEXT - JONATHAN SHER

Eti­enne LeBel calls him­self the hobo sci­en­tist and no won­der: He’s set aside am­bi­tions of be­com­ing a well-paid pro­fes­sor to re­veal the se­crets of se­nior sci­en­tists and the jour­nals that pub­lish their work.

“I’ve got­ten hate mail, ba­si­cally, from se­nior col­leagues,” says the 33-yearold re­search as­so­ciate at the Univer­sity of Western On­tario.

As a PhD can­di­date at Western in 2010, LeBel was al­ready un­easy about some psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search he had read, when he saw the study that set him down the path of re­bel­lion: An Ivy League pro­fes­sor claimed ESP was real and that col­lege stu­dents could pre­dict ran­dom events.

The study by Cor­nell Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Daryl Bem, pub­lished in The Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­ogy, was head­line news, but other sci­en­tists re­acted with scorn. They later repli­cated Bem’s meth­ods and found no ev­i­dence of psy­chic pow­ers.

Last week, a joint ef­fort by 270 re­searchers in­clud­ing LeBel fired a broad­side at the field of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search. The team repli­cated ex­per­i­ments used to pro­duce 100 stud­ies in lead­ing jour­nals and fewer than half pro­duced the ev­i­dence the au­thors had claimed — a find­ing pub­lished in the world-lead­ing jour­nal Science and re­ported in head­lines around the world.

A point per­son for the so-called Re­pro­ducibil­ity Pro­ject praised LeBel as a Cana­dian trail­blazer.

“He is more than talk, he gets stuff done,” said Brian Nosek, who started and leads the Cen­ter for Open Science based in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia

On his web­site psy­chdis­clo­sure.org, LeBel asks sci­en­tists to re­veal all ev­i­dence and meth­ods and not just what is pub­lished in jour­nals. Though his web­site has trig­gered some hate mail, last year the jour­nal Psy­chol­ogy Science in­creased re­port­ing stan­dards and cited LeBel’s work as a rea­son.

He has also cre­ated a sec­ond web­site, Cu­rate­science. org, where sci­en­tists are en­cour­aged to pub­lish repli­ca­tion stud­ies and link them to the orig­i­nals.

That latest ef­fort has led to de­mand for LeBel by other mav­er­ick aca­demics at lead­ing univer­si­ties in Europe and the United States — he’s leav­ing Sept. 12 for a three­month tour that will in­clude Har­vard and Cam­bridge.

His work has also im­pressed his key ally at Western, Lorne Camp­bell, a pro­fes­sor in whose lab LeB el works. Sci­en­tists should be much more open about their work, and their stud­ies should be sub­jected to repli­ca­tion, said Camp­bell, who has done repli­ca­tion stud­ies him­self.

Eti­enne LeBel

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